Thirty Years Later: Argüello vs. Ganigan

By Christian Giudice on May 22, 2012
Thirty Years Later: Argüello vs. Ganigan
Linked by the title bout, there was a parallel as both men were gone in a three-year span

Thirty years ago to the day, two lightweights, Alexis Argüello and Andy Ganigan, met in a brief but unforgettable collision…

The Aladdin, Las Vegas
WBC Lightweight title bout

Sometimes the fights that lack the flair, hype and ambience of a typical world championship are the ones that never leave you. Thirty years ago to the day, two lightweights met in a brief but unforgettable collision. Both fighters were defined by their power: one a searing, intense type of power; the other, just as destructive, emanated from a blend of patience and precision. When Alexis Argüello stepped in to defend his WBC lightweight crown against Honolulu’s Andy “Hawaiian Punch” Ganigan in 1982, fans prepared for battle. 

The fight was originally set for April 3, 1982, but was postponed when Argüello suffered a viral infection. Eventually the bout was rescheduled for May 22; yet, fans were still clamoring from the performance that Ganigan put on seven months earlier when he was slated to face Sean O’Grady for the lightly regarded WAA crown. When Olympic champ Howard Davis pulled out of the bout, Ganigan slid his way in as a late sub. As a 5-1 underdog against the southpaw, few onlookers believed that the hard-punching Ganigan would threaten O’Grady. Two rounds and three knockdowns later, Ganigan had shocked the boxing world.

“I grew up in the sport, and I learned the craft from the best boxers,” O’Grady told me in 2011. “But I also learned not to take yourself too seriously because there’s always an Andy Ganigan around the corner—ready with that Hawaiian Punch.”

By the time, Ganigan knocked out O’Grady, he still wasn’t a household name; in fact, prior to his shocking victory over O’Grady, he had only fought two of his thirty-six bouts outside Honolulu. Rarely does a fighter introduce himself on the boxing scene in such an intense and definitive manner, but fans quickly embraced the Hawaii-based Ganigan.

Had he garnered cult status after the victory?

“I don’t recall Ganigan having a cult following, at least on the mainland, but I do remember him bursting on the scene with a three-knockdown destruction of Bubblegum Sean O’Grady,” said FightNews boxing journalist Rick Scharmberg. “Remember, this was on network TV back then. O’Grady was still highly-touted, and a former champ who was recently stripped of his title…After that fight, Ganigan had an aura of a brutal puncher who came out of the unknown.”

People began to take notice as Ganigan’s victory earned him a mandatory title shot against Argüello. The Nicaraguan had already made three defenses of his 135-pound title, and there were whispers about a possible showdown with Aaron Pryor, the man no one wanted to face. Pryor, however, was not optimistic about the prospects of an Argüello bout. “Every time I get close, there’s a black cloud,” he said. After recovering from his infection, Argüello told a reporter that he wasn’t taking Ganigan lightly. “This is a big river that I have to cross. If I am a good swimmer, I will cross that river.” Argüello earned $400,000 for the defense, while Ganigan (34-3) settled for $175,000.

The 15-round title defense was held at The Aladdin in Las Vegas. Referee Carlos Padilla set the guidelines in the middle of the ring as the taut, supremely focused Argüello (70-5) honed in on Ganigan. While Arguello rocked on his 134¾ pound frame, the heavier Ganigan had struggled mightily to make weight.

Not wasting any time, Ganigan went directly to Argüello’s body from the opening bell. With the first round coming to an end, Ganigan expedited the feeling-out process by sending an off-balance Argüello to the canvas with a damaging left hook. Argüello’s pre-fight concerns regarding Ganigan’s quirky, smashmouth style were warranted. What Argüello had originally denounced a “weird” style had suddenly transformed to corrosive and threatening as he stared up from the canvas.

After physically overpowering in the first two minutes of the round, the Hawaiian contender had forced Argüello to the ropes with a straight left followed by a crunching right to the body. Economical in each movement, Ganigan appeared to be positioning Argüello perfectly. Then he released a compact short left hook that left Argüello visibly dazed. Argüello’s head jolted back before he hit the canvas, and Ganigan gave him a quick touch with his right hand to make sure he was going down. Argüello rose quickly, and finished taking the eight-count. Still focused, Argüello refused to avert his eyes from Ganigan, who waited eagerly across the ring. For the last thirty seconds of the round, Argüello went on the offensive. The round ended with Argüello nodding at his opponent before heading back to his corner.

Not heeding trainer Eddie Futch’s advice, Argüello was content to stay uncharacteristically passive during the first minute of the second round. Despite landing a sharp jab and right hand in the middle of the ring, Argüello was allowing Ganigan to have the same success as southpaw Jose Luis Ramirez had against him two years earlier. Then, halfway through the third round, Argüello woke to land his first significant punch, a right hand. He followed that with another straight right seconds later to send Ganigan to the canvas. Futch had stressed the set-up jab and the staple right hand, and the combination worked to perfection.

Like Argüello, Ganigan rose to his feet at the count of two and proceeded to throw wild, relentless offerings that only worked to Argüello’s advantage. Argüello described the process of knocking down Ganigan as “waking a sleeping bear” and it played directly to Arguello’s strengths. No longer backing up, Argüello stung the Hawaiian with a right to the neck that the cringing Ganigan acknowledged upon impact. Yet, with twenty seconds remaining in a round with a chaotic ebb and flow, Ganigan shook Argüello again with a left hook. Back then, it was extremely rare for Argüello to get knocked down, inconceivable to see him hurt again two rounds later. Argüello’s legs buckled, and Ganigan continued his unabated approach. Another left and right combination stymied Argüello, who covered up. The round ended with Ganigan being catapulted to the corner with a straight right—the crowd gave the men a standing ovation as the cornermen weighed in.

The men fought more cautiously during the fourth round. Finally using his height to his advantage, Argüello began to sit on his punches as he deftly picked apart his shorter opponent with his staple left jab and pinpoint right. No longer was Argüello the timid fighter from the first two rounds. Now he incorporated a deadly uppercut to complement his straight right.

A round later, a left jab stopped Ganigan in his tracks; in fact, the once brazen southpaw now confronted Argüello with trepidation. With thirty seconds remaining in the round, Argüello spun Ganigan’s head 180 degrees with a straight right. After another right hand, Ganigan covered up; after a left jab, Ganigan retreated. Then, with the round winding down, Argüello attacked, leaving Ganigan in a heap on the canvas. With his head outside the ring apron and the round officially over, a bloody Ganigan spit his mouthpiece out as referee Padilla counted him out. As Padilla walked away to raise Argüello’s hand, Ganigan lay motionless, still stuck under the ropes. He stayed on the canvas for several minutes. The knockout was recorded at 3:09 of the fifth round, and at the time of the stoppage the champ was leading on two of the three scorecards (39–37, 37–36), and the fight was even on the last one (37–all). The win marked Argüello’s sixty-first knockout in seventy-six fights; Ganigan fell to 34-4.

“Thank God I was in good condition so that I woke up,” said Argüello. “I was able to get up with my mind in a good place. Any fighter can be hit in the right spot at the right time. Sometimes it is lucky if you don’t go to the floor in a 15-round bout.”

Ganigan responded: “I thought maybe he was playing possum. So I played it cool and tried to box. If I fought him again I would be more aggressive. But that’s why he’s a great champion.”

The flash knockdown didn’t alter the perception that fight fans had of Argüello, and few disparaged Ganigan, despite his early exit.

“The difference between analyzing Alexis from the ring and the booth was so much more than just conversations. In every fight you have to have total body commitment. It appeared that Argüello would fight in waves. Once he saw an opening or a weakness, he would zero in. He was impeccable like that,” said O’Grady. “Trainers don’t see when a fighter is getting ready to get KO’d. But Alexis saw the sign. He was as perspicacious as anyone at understanding when a fighter was ready to go. “

Linked by the title bout, there was also another disturbing parallel as both men were gone in a three-year span (Argüello in 2009; Ganigan, more recently, in 2012). The sport lost two great men. Left with only the memories of that May evening, it will be hard to forget either one.

Christian Giudice is the author of Beloved Warrior: The Rise and Fall of Alexis Argüello, which is currently available on Amazon, and Hands of Stone: The Life and Legend of Roberto Duran.

New website for Arguello biography due out May 26: (

Beloved Warrior: The Rise and Fall of Alexis Arguello now out on Kindle  

Beloved Warrior website:

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Alexis Arguello vs. Andy Ganigan (part 1 of 3)

Alexis Arguello vs. Andy Ganigan (part 2 of 3)

Alexis Arguello vs. Andy Ganigan (part 3 of 3)

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  1. Fran Sands 02:15pm, 05/28/2012

    Christian.  Great article.  Arguello was just sublime to watch, close to perfection.

    I really enjoyed Hands of Stone, now looking forward to getting my copy of Beloved Warrior. :-)

  2. Rick S 06:36pm, 05/22/2012

    What a finisher he was! Once Alexis hurt Ganigan, he got him into the corner and went right to his body with both hands. There was no way Andy was escaping. I loved that fight. And to think it was on network TV on a weekend afternoon. Those were the days.

  3. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo 09:30am, 05/22/2012

    Christian Giudice-Another fine writer on this site…thanx…“perspicacious”...looks like Sean’s neurons are firing just fine, thank you.

  4. Don from Prov 09:16am, 05/22/2012

    Loved watching this fight again.

    Great memories—

    Thanks for the fine article!

  5. mikecasey 08:06am, 05/22/2012

    Fine article on two of my personal favourites - Alexis and Andy were a credit to the game.

  6. Pete The Sneak 06:55am, 05/22/2012

    30 Years later and yes that fight still resonates today. The Hawaiian Punch Ganigan and El Assesino Caballero (The Gentleman Assassin) Arguello put on a spectacular affair without all the pomp and circumstance as Thresh mentioned. Sometimes these type fights are indeed the ones you never forget. Elvir Muriqui and Sam Ahmad come to mind in fights without all the ballyhoo that are forever imbedded in your mind. I think Ted knows a thing or two about that fight. Nice write up Christian. Peace.

  7. The Thresher 05:34am, 05/22/2012

    “Sometimes the fights that lack the flair, hype and ambience of a typical world championship are the ones that never leave you.” Well said. This was such a bout.

  8. The Thresher 05:24am, 05/22/2012

    And both died under terrible and tragic circumstances.

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